Through January 31, 2016
By Amy Trompeter
Tired of Sex, a sculpture show at The Great Far Beyond in the Vox Populi building, features Philadelphia-based artists Christopher Capriotti and Casey Poehlein.
A shrewdly assembled collection of domestic objects, Tired of Sex combines public space and private matters to construct a peculiar living room in limbo. Incidentally, a quick dictionary.com search of “limbo” returns the word “captivity” as synonymous. Bondage, subjection, and control are further suggested as alternatives; each lends itself to Christopher Capriotti’s approach to sculpture. Although actively taking liberties with the language and symbolism of painting, Capriotti asserts his work as anything but painterly. Wielding framed canvases picked up from thrift stores, rescued from their forlorn afterlife as the kind of “trash which is not quite trash enough to throw away,” he manipulates the wall art into submission, masking surfaces in unforgiving layers of rubber. Capriotti’s sculptures don “gimp suits” of Plasti-Dip and spray rubber sealant. Rejecting painterly notions of illusionary depth and pictorial narrative, masks of rubber transcend the flatness of canvas, and in an objectifying action a consideration of the third dimension intrinsic to sculpture is generated.
Following a counter-clockwise movement through the space, a 4’ by 3’ panel of cement bathroom flooring dominates the west wall. A material intended to resist the absorption of moisture wearing thin layers of white paint, the panel gives the impression of having crawled up from the floor in an attempt to blend with the white wall of the gallery. However, resisting complete concealment, a vertical fold and crease of the panel reveals its backside and the language of surrender:
“- for use”
The casual lean of a fluorescent light fixture near the far corner glares heavily against the white wall. The very fringes of the fluorescent glow casts soft white light upon a framed canvas whose picture plane is sprayed with flexible rubber coating, save for a small tear in the surface no larger than a dime, revealing a deep-turquoise surface beneath. Possibly an action of mercy, the outer rubber layers applied to Capriotti’s sculptures each offer a break in the skin, an opening or marginal allowance for the object to peer out beyond captivity. One imagines the sculpture looking out through this peep hole, a voyeuristic notion reflected directly across the room in a wall-mounted sculpture by Casey Poehlein.
Filling the circular void in the center of a framed piece of thick, protective foam are photographs of a nearly-nude Poehlein, placing the viewer in the position of a peeping-Tom. Poehlein’s sculptures more explicitly deal with personal sexual identity, utilizing images of her body as a means to communicate a feminine point of view. Taking advantage of the gaze, her work explores how women are objectified even from a young age. A hot-pink toy Hummer car fitted with underbody lighting is converted into a glass-topped coffee table, integrating an object of young, feminine agency with a symbol of adult domestication. Originally designed as high-mobility vehicles for military usage, in the 21st century Hummer trucks have come to represent authoritative luxury. Following suit with ultra-feminine ideals of Barbie cars, the bright pink Hummer emphasizes the social practice of gendering objects in early childhood. Converting the girl’s toy into a coffee table allows for this gendered narrative to continue into adulthood as a utilitarian object of domesticity.
Atop the table, a bound collection of Instagram photographs, each paired with the number of “likes” received, is contextualized by the title written on its spine, “things he likes.” The obsessive practice of tracking social media activity and the placebo effect of validation when one’s own image is the object in receipt of a “like” is analogous to a young woman seeking male approval. A video performance displayed on the wall beyond the coffee table deals with complicated relationships between women, and the approval they seek from one another. Poehlein receives a temporary tattoo on her behind from a female friend reading “No Trust Me, I Have It Worse,” and just as soon as the image has set in the skin it is washed away. The video reflects upon the inclination in female relationships to support one another, while participating in subconscious competition. Each woman participates equally in the fruitless argument and perpetuates its false narrative, whether applying or receiving the phrase.
There is a nonchalant attitude in contemporary art which lays claim to the lean of a fluorescent fixture, or the gestural line of an exposed electric chord, of which the installation of Capriotti and Poehlein’s work is consciously guilty. Despite a sort of low-brow approach to art making which tends toward the glorification of found objects and blue-collar construction materials, these seemingly overlooked details, such as lighting decisions that appear to have been made out of necessity rather than design, do detract from what is an otherwise careful placement of objects. While directional light can and should be utilized in a multi-media installation like the one at The Great Far Beyond, the leaning florescent fixture feels like an overtly casual anomaly, and a convenient result of a nearby outlet. The same can be said for the Hummer coffee table. An erratic white chord juts from the underside, demanding more attention than that which it powers, the bright purple underbody lighting which in union with the nostalgia-drenched young girl’s toy car, is a rousing, adult addition. Without being prescriptive, I feel both the object and overall installation would benefit from concealment of these power sources. Against the slickness of wall-mounted iPads, playing looped video and audio, the chords rudely point to archaic forms of technology, which in their presence not only disrupt the utopian lounge, but also obstruct a viewer’s movement through the space. Beyond the chord’s logistical issue, my point simply is that it alludes to the inner-workings of an otherwise delightfully peculiar approach to conceptual furniture.
Minor installation matters aside, each artist utilizes their personal lexicon of visual language and gestures to consider the character of an art object, while reflecting upon how humans inherently sexualize objects. Poehlin’s sculptures are meditations on the maturation of female sexuality and relationships, actualized relative to the female body, while Capriotti’s sculptures are nearly stripped of their individual identities. Tired of Sex is successful in its depiction of sexual objectification, through sculptures which seem to suggestively reveal themselves, like the playfully demure lean of a pin-up girl, or the pitiful zippered opening of a bondage suit. While Capriotti’s work utilizes visual language representing coercion, Poehlein’s work relies on a vocabulary of affirmation. Poehlein’s bodily presence and sculptures which take charge of the floor space, in concert with Capriotti’s deliberate corporeal absence in objects which cling to the wall like docile party-goers, illustrate an inherent opposition in their approach to human sexuality. While provocative imagery and subject mater in art can leave viewers feeling “tired of sex” themselves, Capriotti and Poehlein’s covert approach, characterized by introspection and innuendo, is generative without flustering their audience, and overall an intelligent pairing of two bodies of work.
Photographs courtesy of The Great Far Beyond and Ian Shiver.
Contact “email@example.com” to view by appointment.
Amy Trompeter is an artist and writer living in Philadelphia.
All works made in 2015